As international diplomats converged in the Middle East on Sunday seeking a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, Israel wrestled with whether to go forward with a ground invasion of Rafah, Hamas’s last bastion in the enclave, according to Israeli officials and analysts.

Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they plan to move into Rafah, but over the weekend, they made clear they were open to holding off if it meant they could secure the release of Israeli hostages taken when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli war cabinet, said Sunday that while “entering Rafah is important for the long battle against Hamas,” freeing the remaining hostages, whose number is estimated at about 100, “is urgent and much more important.”

As Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken headed for Saudi Arabia on Sunday to meet with officials from a half-dozen Arab nations, an American official said Mr. Blinken’s top priority was a cease-fire deal that would include the release of all hostages.

“It would allow for all those hostages to get out,” John Kirby, the U.S. national security spokesman, said on the ABC News program “This Week.” “And to, of course, allow for easier aid access in places in Gaza, particularly in the north. So he’s going to be working at that very, very hard.”

Israel has been under intense international pressure — including from the United States — not to invade Rafah, in Gaza’s south, where more than a million Palestinians have fled the war and are already living in dire conditions.


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